How Is an Electron Microscope Different Than a Light Microscope?

An electron microscope has a higher resolution than a light microscope, which results in much finer detail of the specimen being viewed. Although an electron microscope can magnify a specimen up to 2 million times, a light microscope is advantageous when viewing live cells.

Electron microscopy uses an electron beam rather than light to achieve magnification. To do this, electrons pass through a thin piece of the specimen. The wavelengths of an electron beam are much smaller than light, allowing for better resolution. Because of its ability to reach such acute levels of resolution, it is possible to see the shape of a specimen. Although the finite detail is beneficial in many circumstances, the specimen viewed under an electron microscope must be fixed during preparation so that the structure is not disturbed, which means the specimen will not be alive and can only observe its visual characteristics.

Light microscopy functions on the basis of diffraction. To achieve magnification, light either passes through or reflects off of a specimen before it is transmitted through the optical lenses. In certain conditions, live cells and their biological functions, such as food intake and cell division, can be viewed. Viewers can also track proteins and observe cell movement.